My parents were visiting me this week, and we talked a lot about our family history. Remember when I said that my grandfather made me butter sandwiches? Well, he came by it honestly – his father, my great grandfather, would signal the end of a meal by reaching for the butter dish, slicing a pat off with his knife and taking it like a palate cleanser at the end of his meal. This would have been farm churned butter – the freshest, most beautiful stuff a cow could create. Not everyone has access to butter so fresh that you want to eat it on its own, but there are lots of choices out there. The type you choose and how you use it will impact your final product. So what are the choices and how do you make a decision?
One of the first choices you are confronted with as a chocolatier when you are choosing your butter is whether you will use salted or unsalted? Both have their pros and cons. Salt added to a bonbon in any form will enhance the flavour, but if you add it in the form of salted butter you can’t control the amount of salt you’re adding. That said, salted butter is often less expensive than unsalted, due to the preserving effect of the salt on the dairy. Salted butter lasts longer, and is more economical, while unsalted gives you more control over flavour. For things like toffee and caramel, I like to use salted butter. The salt is never too much when it comes just from the butter, and I find myself adding a little extra sea salt for flavour anyway, and the caramelized nature of the products makes the freshness almost irrelevant – toffee and caramel are great uses for almost expired butter. For ganache, I prefer unsalted butter to have more control over the finessing of the final flavour profile.
Your next choice is organic or conventional? Again, keeping limits, economy, and flavour are all considerations, as well as your values and those of your customer. Technically organic and conventional butter should behave the same, but I haven’t met a confectioner yet who agrees with that! For economical reasons, I use conventional when I am going to cook the heck out of a butter (in toffee and caramel), and organic when I’m not, such as in a ganache.
Finally, there are things you can do to your butter to change its properties and influence both the shelf life and the flavour of your work.
Ghee, also known as clarified butter, is made by evaporating the water and separating the milk proteins from the fat. Because the water is removed, the use of ghee can extend the shelf life of your piece. As well, the resulting butter is a richer flavour than regular butter so it can deepen your flavour profile.
Browned butter is ghee that has been cooked further to caramelize the milk solids. This caramelization changes the flavour of the butter, giving it an almost nutty aroma and flavour. Because of this flavour profile, browned butter works especially well in nut based ganaches.
A question we received following our Butter: Part One post was: Is there any substitute? Absolutely, there are butter substitutes, but they will never give the same effect as pure dairy butter. In my next post I will explore several options for butter substitution in chocolates and confections.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/artbystevejohnson/